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We appreciate the enduring humor of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, yet we also cannot avoid its dated views on courtship, marriage, and gender roles. We invite you to explore Shrew’s themes with us during our Community Conversation series of events in the theatre and commentary here.
Nevertheless, The Shrew Persisted
A program note by Assistant Director Ty Hallmark
When Chesapeake Shakespeare Company planned their 15th season many months ago, they could not have foreseen the timely coincidence of producing one of Shakespeare’s most problematic plays – from a feminist perspective – against the backdrop of the historic Women’s March on Washington. Its subject matter and story have produced myriad conversations in both big and small groups amongst the cast and production team, echoing the larger national discourse. This is my second time around with The Taming of the Shrew, and now, as then, I grapple with what it means to tell this story and how I, as a feminist, might do so responsibly.
It is not a particularly easy story to portray. If misdirected, Petruchio’s treatment of Katharina reinforces patriarchy and uses Katharina’s hurt and pain as an instrument for laughs. There is also the trap of attempting to mold the text and impress upon the script an interpretation that is more progressive than Shakespeare intended (or, let’s be realistic, could ever have foreseen in the 1590s). So how do you contend with that troublesome final monologue, or with Petruchio’s false claims to Kate’s physical intimacy, or with the way in which he shows up for their wedding and later deprives her of food and sleep?
Like feminism, I think the approach might be to seek out equality between the two. Is it possible for Kate and Petruchio to land, at the end, on equal footing? Is there a moment where these two misfits can actually connect and find that neither one has the upper hand but that they are, in fact, the same? Or was Shakespeare’s world, like our own, rife with institutional forces that make such equality a fiction?
The answer depends on the production, the director’s interpretation, and of course, what you, the audience, personally waIk away thinking and feeling. It’s OK if that answer is, “no, they do not find equality.” Theatre is not about perfect or happy endings. Rather, it is about our role as artists to hold a mirror up to nature and society to reflect life back, to provoke and engage conversation as a course for constituting change. If this is the case, then we are nearly obligated to ensure that The Shrew persists
Ty Hallmark is Assistant Director of The Taming of the Shrew. She has been an Associate Member with CSC since 2009 and was part of the inaugural Resident Acting Company from 2011-2014. Ty is the Founding and Producing Artistic Director of Ally Theatre Company, whose work focuses on acknowledging and confronting systemic oppression in America.